Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Foolproof Gravy

Gravy seems to be one of those kitchen mysteries for many people. Really it’s just a simple pan sauce and with a few helpful hints you’ll be making gravy like a pro.

Standard Turkey Gravy 
Makes 4 cups.

1/4 cup fat (reduced pan drippings)
1/4 cup flour (or 2 tablespoons cornstarch or arrow root powder)
4 cups chicken or turkey broth, homemade is preferable
salt and pepper to taste
good-quality wine vinegar, optional

When you have finished roasting your turkey, remove it from the pan along with any onions or other vegetables you may have cooked it on. Use a slotted spoon to remove the cooked vegetables so that you leave as much jus (drippings) in the pan as possible.

Place the roasting pan over a couple burners on your stove top. Reduce (simmer) the drippings over medium-high heat until you have about 1/4 cup left in the pan. 

Lower heat to medium. Add 1/4 cup of flour and whisk until the flour becomes a smooth paste. Don't panic if there are lumps, just keep whisking!

Very slowly, add chicken broth to the flour paste while whisking constantly. Don’t be afraid to stop adding broth for a moment until you can whisk the mixture smooth. The key to smooth gravy is constant whisking.* Continue to whisk until you have added all four cups of broth. If you like other flavors in your gravy, such as pureed giblets, fresh herbs or wine, feel free to add them at this time. Reduce heat and simmer until the gravy reaches the desired thickness. 

Finish with salt and pepper to taste. Now, if your gravy is good but not great, here's a little chef trick to try: add a splash of good quality wine vinegar. Try as little as 1/4 teaspoon at first. Sometimes rich sauces benefit from a little bit of acidity to brighten the flavor!

*If you do end up with some lumps in your gravy, simply pour the gravy through a sieve before serving. No one will know the difference!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Talking Turkey about Thanksgiving Wines

Need a little advice before you head to the wine shop this holiday? Here are a few notes to help you sort out the perfect wine for your Thanksgiving celebration.

There are several wines that are "gimme’s" when it comes to Thanksgiving. That doesn't diminish their appeal or great taste. It just means that you might have already thought of them. So, let’s talk about the easy pairings first.

Chardonnay is always a good bet especially if it comes from California or Australia. The oaky, buttery flavors really marry well with the traditional Thanksgiving meal. It’s a wine that everyone is familiar with and will enjoy. I would suggest trying a lightly oaked version so that the wine doesn't compete with the food.

Pinot Noir and red Burgandy arguably top the list of all-time greatest wines. You might find it interesting to know, it’s a compliment to suggest that a Pinot Noir or Burgandy has a "barnyard" aroma. That doesn't mean a foul smell, rather a lightly funky smell - like damp straw in a stable, a well-worn saddle - it’s pleasant and reminiscent of a barn. A good Pinot Noir or Burgandy will have a velvety texture, soft tannins and perhaps a cherry fruit flavor. Their slight gamey aroma and light body make them a great match with roast turkey, particularly the dark meat and root vegetables.

Zinfandel is a great choice if you are thinking about pairing with your side dishes vs. the turkey. If you make a delicious sausage stuffing or are famous for your cranberry sauce, Zinfandel could be the wine for you. Look for a fruity, medium bodied, moderate alcohol wine (under 13%) that won’t overpower the meal.

If you are looking for something a little different, I have some less common wine pairing suggestions.

Viognier is a delicate, low acid wine that typically has light floral notes in the nose -- think peach blossoms or honeysuckle. It is a good wine for foods that are spiced with aromatic spices like clove and nutmeg. It pairs well with poultry, especially when combined with sweet and savory flavors so imagine it with roast turkey, herbed stuffing, sweet potatoes and a wedge of pumpkin pie.

Beaujolais often has a soft plummy flavor that is very drinkable. I’d recommend trying a Beaujolais-Village because they are typically light bodied and don’t over powered food with too much fullness or a long finish. These straightforward wines pair well with rustic, flavorful foods like roasted pork and poultry with pan gravy.

Are you smoking your turkey this year? Or perhaps you’re deep-frying your bird? Okay you crazy culinarians, I haven’t forgotten about you! Here are some wine pairing suggestions just for you.

Sparkling Wines always add a festive note to the meal. But, if you are planning to deep-fry your turkey this year, this is definitely the choice for you! A crisp dry sparkling wine (brut or rosé) acts as a refreshing palate cleanser alongside the salt and crispy skin of the bird.

For those of you making a smoked turkey, a Dry Rosé is the ticket. I’m not talkin’ white zin here, rather a European-style rosé. They typically offer a nice balance of acidity and fruitiness to compliment the smokey flavor of the turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!  Cheers, Chef Erin

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Roasted Squash with Apples and Dill

Roasted vegetables are one of the biggest food trends of the past several years. I’ve developed a simple roasted vegetable recipe that will be perfect side dish for your holiday meal. I think you’ll enjoy the subtle sweetness of the roasted squash and apples. It’s much less cloying that some traditional squash or sweet potato dishes. The dill is an unusual addition to the recipe and really brings out an herbaceous quality in the apples. 

Roasted Squash with Apples & Dill
Serves 8

8 tbsp (1 stick) butter
4 cups Butternut squash, medium dice*
2 cups sweet onion (e.g. Walla Walla; Maui; Vidalia, etc.), medium dice*
3 cups apples, medium dice*
1 tbsp fresh dill, minced
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Set aside.

Combine squash, onions and 6 tbsp melted butter in a large mixing bowl. Toss gently to coat. 

Spread squash mixture onto a buttered baking sheet. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until the squash is just tender, approximately 20 minutes.

Remove baking sheet from the oven. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees F.

Uncover the squash. Toss apples with the remaining 2 tbsp of melted butter. Add buttered apples to the roasted squash on the baking sheet and return to the oven. Bake uncovered until the apples and squash begin to brown in spots, approximately 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Sprinkle the dish with fresh dill and salt and pepper to taste. The dish can be served immediately or at room temperature.

Note: If you roast this dish in the morning before putting your turkey in the oven, you can let it sit at room temperature until serving or refrigerate and reheat it while you are making your gravy.  

*medium dice = 1/2 inch cubes

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Best Thanksgiving Turkey Advice!

It’s an age-old holiday struggle. How do you keep the white meat of your turkey moist while waiting for the dark meat to finish cooking? Well, I have a suggestion for you that will not only decrease your cooking time but also make the dark meat the most popular option. This holiday season why don’t you try removing the turkey legs and stuffing them. It’s easy. I will lead you through each step with photos to demonstrate what to do.

First, using a sharp knife, slice through the skin of the bird between the body and the thigh to expose the flesh.

Next bend the leg toward the backbone of the bird enough to pop the thigh joint out. Cut along the body of the bird, around the joint, to remove the leg. Repeat the process on the other leg.

When you have removed both legs, lay them cut-side up on the cutting board. You should see a line of yellowish fat running down the inner thigh of the leg. Use the tip of your knife to cut along that line down to the thigh bone. Continue to cut a straight line from that point on down the leg. When you reach the ankle joint, slice around the leg to free the skin from the bone.

Use the blade of the knife to scrape the meat away from the leg bones. At the knee joint, carefully use the tip of your knife to free the meat from the joint. Try not to puncture the skin.

You are almost done! The last step is to remove the hard tendons from the leg portion. The tendons look and feel like white “sticks” in the leg meat. I hold the exposed end of the “stick” while running the tip of my knife along the length of the tendon. A little tug should free the tendon after you run your knife the length of it. If you are having trouble pulling the tendons out, try using a pair of kitchen tweezers or pliers.

If you are removing the leg bones the night before, simply cover and refrigerate them until you are ready to put the bird in the oven. For food safety reasons, you should not stuff the legs until you are ready to roast them.

When you are ready to cook the whole bird, lay the boned leg sections out flat on a cutting board. Each leg section should form the shape of a rectangle. Spoon a line of your favorite stuffing down the center on the long side, then roll the stuffed leg into a cylinder.

Using kitchen twine, truss the stuffed leg to hold it together. You start by tying the twine around one end of the leg, then make a loop, twist it and slide it around the leg. Space each loop about 1 to 2 inches apart. Repeat until the whole leg is secure.

Stuff the breast cavity as you normally would. Nestle a little aluminum foil around any exposed stuffing to keep it from drying out. Place the stuffed breast into your roasting pan and lay the stuffed legs on either side. Roast, basting occasionally, until the breast meat has reached 170ºF. By the time the white meat of the breast is fully cooked, the legs will be as well. Slice the breast and stuffed legs and arrange on a platter.

I promise the dark meat will be a hit!